RETAILERS NEED TO CHANT NEW PRIVATE-LABEL MANTRA

Promotion, promotion, promotion. That should have been the mantra of those in charge of the precious supermarket real estate within the center aisles as they gathered this past weekend for the annual Private Label Manufacturers Association trade show in Chicago. Even if a retailer has a good quality, multi-tiered, private-label portfolio, how will it ever be "discovered" by shoppers if a solid promotional

Promotion, promotion, promotion. That should have been the mantra of those in charge of the precious supermarket real estate within the center aisles as they gathered this past weekend for the annual Private Label Manufacturers Association trade show in Chicago. Even if a retailer has a good quality, multi-tiered, private-label portfolio, how will it ever be "discovered" by shoppers if a solid promotional campaign is not enforced?

Over the past several weeks, I have spent quite a bit of time interviewing various sources within the private-label industry in preparation for my feature in this issue (see Page 25) and for our special Nov. 25 issue in which we identify visionaries from various facets of the supermarket industry, including the private-label arena. From those long since retired to those currently involved in the private-label crusade, all of my sources had in common the conviction that promotion is a huge predictor to the success or failure of a private-label line. The other thing they were also in agreement upon is the fact that today's grocers don't do nearly enough of it.

"The way the traditional supermarket business is run is absolute lunacy. I don't know how people can call themselves merchants when essentially all they do is prove that they can give away products at low cost," said David Nichol, the president behind the President's Choice private-label line at Loblaws, which launched in the early 1980s (see next week's issue for more on his contributions to the industry).

During the launch, Nichol tirelessly positioned the Loblaw store brand for success by constantly promoting the retailer's products on television and in print, from the weekly circular to special mailings to consumers.

Anybody shopping the Canadian retailer in those days knew that, without a doubt, the store's president believed in the private-label products he was hawking, making consumers that much more prone to trial and purchase.

The inflexible financial budgets and lack of commitment from executive-level personnel in today's world are a far cry from the days of the Nichol commercials.

"I'm amazed to see that there still is a relative indifference in American supermarkets to the development of their private-label program, which I'm sure they just file under the basis that they just don't have the money to invest in the type of program like Loblaws had," Nichol told SN.

Yet, with the days of the superstores upon us, grocers need to start being more proactive with their own labels. This is the one area they are most in control over, so why not put more advertising muscle behind it? Make sure budgets allow for private-label promotion and reap the profits, as our supermarket ancestors did decades ago. Learn from example -- isn't that what mothers all over the world have been saying for years?

Or, have an acceptable answer ready should Nichol pose this question to you, as he did to SN:

"When was the last time you ever saw a television commercial in the U.S. in which some supermarket was talking about a product that was superior and was only available in their stores?"